New York Times Assistant Managing Editor Michele McNally answered readers’ questions on nytimes.com this week as part of their series “Talk to the Newsroom”. There were many interesting questions and responses, some more pertinent to the broader readership than photographers themselves, but this question that I’m quoting here I think is a very nice roundup of why it is worth trying to do this work. And it is a nice answer I can give to the people who have been asking me about how to get started themselves, or what the hell I’m thinking as I try to do this myself.
Advice for a Young Photojournalist
Q. I’ve recently graduated from college and landed a job at a daily newspaper that just announced layoffs. Away from family and friends, I’d like to think this sacrifice is and has been worth where I hope my career heads. There’s a lot of talk and glorification of the past, but photographers and photo editors then were faced with tribulations as well. My question is, is what I am doing, my education, my push to learn and grow, is it all going to be worth it someday? Did you have doubts when you started your career?
— John Tully
A. Mr. Tully: It appears you are on the right track already. You are questioning your committment and if it is worth the sacrifice. You have already recognized that the career of a photojournalist is a difficult one personally, so you’ve got to love it. I really mean that. Clarify your mission and the purpose of your photographs. Figure out what you want to say, and how you can get better and better at saying it. Understand that it is a long journey … the cliché … it’s a marathon not a sprint, does hold true in the career of a photojournalist.
And a big mighty yes — it will be worth it. How fortunate we are to do what we do! The world is your doorstep. You can be smack in the middle of history, and you can make that moment tangible to viewers worldwide. You are invited into peoples lives every day. People will share their stories with you daily — locally or internationally and you can give voice to them. You will see and do more in a week than some people will experience in a lifetime. Pretty exhilarating to me. Doubts, questions, all good things. When answered, they give us clarity and focus, for a short time — because the people I admire are always pushing, never satisfied, and continually strive.
Good luck, Michele